Mario Goetze (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) 15 games, 6 goals ***
A common cliche is to refer to the return of an injured player as being "like a new signing" for the relevant club. If Dortmund were to have signed a player of Goetze's calibre in the summer it would surely have cost them in excess of £30m. For the youngster's technical ability and vision on the ball are worthy of the world's best players and if he can continue in his current vein of form the sky is the limit both for the club and the player over the rest of the year.
Santi Cazorla (Arsenal and Spain) 20 games, 7 goals ***
The media don’t seem to be able to make up their mind about Arsenal this season. At one stage they were being touted as title contenders, then dismissed as in crisis. One man that everyone is sure about is Santi Cazorla. Technically outstanding the Spaniard has adapted to the Premier League immediately and demonstrated the form that made him a star at Villarreal and Malaga. Now commonly accepted as one of the league’s finest players.
Hernanes (Lazio and Brazil) 18 games, 7 goals **
For all the hype that surrounded Hernanes during his time at Sao Paulo it took an eternity for a European team to take a chance on him. Lazio have reaped the rewards of their faith in recent seasons as he has emerged as one of the finest playmakers in Serie A. Consistently overlooked by Mano Menezes at national level, “the prophet” will be hoping that Luis Felipe Scolari is more appreciative of his talents.
Andres Iniesta (Barcelona and Spain) 13 games, 1 goal **
For some time the criticism of Iniesta has been that while he can shine on the biggest stage he doesn't deliver enough on a regular basis. So far this season he has suffered his usual injuries but when fit he has been contributing killer passes a he most regular rate of his career. With the big games set to come for Barca the demand will be to maintain his productivity and stand out against the best.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Shakhtar Donetsk and Armenia) 17 games, 18 goals **
The departure of Jadson to Sao Paulo has allowed Mkhitaryan to develop still further this season. Previously playing in central midfield the move forward appears to have brought out the best in the Armenian international who is an expert at finding space between the lines. Shakhtar are reaping the rewards of his proficiency in front of goal with Mkhitaryan using his greater freedom to improve on his already impressive offensive contribution.
Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich and Germany) 17 games, 6 goals **
There appears to be a growing maturity about Toni Kroos. Everyone has known what a technically gifted footballer he is since he first emerged at youth level but he is now willing to shoulder his burden of responsibility within the Bayern team. Part of that must be due to the heightened competition for places that exists within the club, but he now looks well set to fulfil the lofty expectations that surround him.
Juan Mata (Chelsea and Spain) 18 games, 7 goals **
Probably the outstanding player of Chelsea's season so far, Mata is one of the only attackers to consistently hit top form. While the arrivals of Oscar and Eden Hazard have made the club a greater threat going forward and added some much needed invention it has sometimes resulted in the Spaniard being placed out on the left flank. That is certainly not his preferred position and it is when he has had his opportunities through the centre that Mata has really been at his best.
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona and Spain)16 games, 5 goals *
Last season saw Cesc Fabregas deployed in a variety of positions as Barca sought to integrate the former Arsenal man into the side. This season he has found himself more regularly in his natural midfield role rather than playing as a forward and while that has reduced his goalscoring it has allowed him to influence play more in deeper areas. Ultimately Fabregas has he versatility to excel wherever he is selected and at present he is on course for another stellar season.
Isco (Malaga and Spain) 18 games, 4 goals *
The most exciting “newcomer” of the last La Liga season has improved again this time around. So far his best performances have come in the Champions League, thrilling against Panathanaikos and then consistently impressing during Malaga’s surprisingly comfortably progression to the second round. It’s no wonder that he has recently received the “Golden Boy” award from Tuttosport as Europe’s most promising young player.
Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille and France) 19 games, 2 goals *
Providing the creative spark in a sometimes workmanlike midfield has been the duty of Valbuena this season. The diminutive Frenchman is fortunately full of ideas and is constantly disrupting opposing defences. New manager Elie Baup certainly seems to have got the best out of Valbuena who does have a tendency to blow hot and cold, but this season at least he has regularly been in peak form.
Marek Hamsik (Napoli and Slovakia) 19 games, 7 goals *
Hamsik has long been regarded as one of Europe's most promising young midfielders but his undeniable ability has often been hampered by chronic inconsistency. This season he has begun to address that, providing a consistency of performance that has bolstered Napoli's title challenge. The next target is for him to maintain this form throughout the season. If he does that then the hype will finally be justified.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United and England) 14 games, 7 goals *
Robin van Persie’s arrival at Old Trafford has led to a change in role for Rooney. Now employed as a deeper creator he has embraced the change in position and dovetailed well with the Dutch centre-forward. That may change again when Shinji Kagawa returns to the line-up but for now he seems to be revelling in the space he finds in the midfield as well as defending from the front with some excellent pressing play.